2018 Toyota Prius Prime is aggressively efficient [video review]

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Even if you aren’t a Prius geek, you know there’s something different about the Prime Advanced edition. Sure, the familiar shape is there, and it gets extraordinary fuel economy, but there’s something more aggressive about it. It’s more aggressively styled, more aggressively efficient–it’s just more aggressively Prius.

I don’t know if you can say it, but the Prius Prime has a more aggressive face and overall futuristic look. The lower facia, with its vertical running lamps and sculpting, could have come from a sports car. Above, quad LED projector lamps on each side glisten and shine. The side profile is pure Prius, but the rear hatch–crafted from carbon-fiber-reinforced polymer–features a double bubble affect and unique LED taillamps.

I’ve driven all of the Prius models since the model was birthed and this is my favorite interior. A large digital instrument display beneath the windshield is a Prius hallmark, but the center controls are dominated by a vertical, almost Tesla-like, HD touchscreen display for audio, climate, and navigation. It’s a little cumbersome to use, but you find your way around quickly with pinch, zoom, tap, and swipe functionality. Drivers also get a head-up display for speed, navigation directions, and energy use.

Heated leather seats, heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, and automatic climate control enhance comfort, as does the JBL audio system. That arching roof provides a roomy cabin, but rear passengers are divided by the battery tunnel, so only two need apply. Open the big hatch and flip down the rear seats for ample storage. Safety is fortified by forward collision mitigation with pedestrian detection, lane keep assist, blind spot warning, rear cross path detection, radar adaptive cruise, and rear camera systems.

Moving this parade of technology is an efficient 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, electric motors, and a lithium-ion battery pack located in back. All in, the system generates 121 horsepower–enough to move a Prius, but not enough to race a Corolla. Of course, that’s not why anybody buys a Prius anyway. The Prime travels 25 miles on electricity before the gas engine extends the journey–up to 640 total miles. It takes about 5.5 hours to recharge on household current or well under 2.5 hours on 240v chargers. Best of all, the car achieves 55/53-MPG city/highway as a hybrid, or 133-MPGe as an electric car. Those are pretty nifty digits.

Drivers can choose how to use available energy, too, with three buttons beneath the big screen. One in the middle switches the car between normal gas/electric hybrid mode and pure EV mode, which stays active up to 84 mph or when the juice runs out. To the right, is the “Auto EV” mode, which favors all-electric driving, but more often perks up the gas engine under acceleration. To the left is a button that changes the throttle from nearly numb in “ECO” mode to Normal and Aggressive.

This is by far the best-driving Prius yet. A four-wheel independent suspension and enhanced steering feel lets you zip through corners with confidence, though a dearth of power will squelch the fun quickly if acceleration is your desire. At cruise, the car goes smoothly and easily keeps up with traffic.

It’s not all paradise. A Prius is still a Prius. Styling is iconic, but not everyone’s idea of sporty. To me, it always feels a little like a big video game. The plastic in the dash also rattled over bumps, and you give up a spot to batteries in the back seat. If at the end of the day you like it, then plug one into your own garage.

Twenty years on, the Prius is still a vision of the future. It looks, drives, and charges like a next-decade ride. But, it’s here today with a base price of $27,100, or $33,985 as-tested, putting Prius Prime against the Chevy Volt, Hyundai Ioniq, Kia Nero, and Ford Fusion Energi.

Storm Forward!

Watch Casey’s video review of the Prius Prime above and subscribe on YouTube: @ AutoCasey.

2018 Toyota Prius Prime
Four-passenger, fwd sedan
Powertrain: 121 hp – 1.8 I4, li-ion batteries
Suspension f/r: Ind/Ind
Wheels f/r: 15”/15” alloy
Brakes f/r: Regen disc/disc
Must-have features: Style, space, electric range: 25 miles
Fuel economy: 55/53 mpg city/hwy; 133-MPGe
Assembly: Aichi, Japan
Base/as-tested price: $27,100/33,985

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